Thursday, November 05, 2009

Choosing Your Genre

As I write Science Fantasy, Science Fiction and Fantasy it makes sense to focus on one if I want to succeed as a writer. But which? Fantasy has more shelf space, but there’s more competition: Does an agent take more Fantasy novels on knowing there’s the market for them ready and waiting? In comparison Science Fantasy seems criminally under represented, but does that mean Agents can afford to wait for the guaranteed blockbuster before taking a punt on a smaller genre? Is the truth somewhere closer to Science Fiction which lies somewhere in the middle?

Of course this applies to all genres. Paranormal romance seems to be everywhere at the moment, much like Fantasy. Crime thriller series, the Pattersons and the Deavers, appear to still be massive. Or is it simply because agents receive more MS’s in one genre from another? They just take on a similar proportion of all genres received and I’m reading too much into it?

I think you’re reading too much into it. The trick isn’t to go for a genre that you think is hotter or easier to break into, the trick is to figure out which of your ideas is the most unique and which you think you can execute the best.

I suspect the reason you’re seeing so many more agents representing Fantasy than Science Fiction these days is because of the recent crossover between Fantasy and Romance. When I was an editor there were agents who represented SF and Fantasy and those who represented Romance. While there was some crossover, it was rare. In fact, I remember when Jennifer Jackson started representing Romance in addition to her SF/Fantasy list and I remember thinking that was unusual. I suspect because of the crossover between Paranormal Romance and Fantasy there are more books in those genres being published, represented, and bought right now. However that doesn’t make it an easier area to break into; in fact, the competition can often make it more difficult. Crime thrillers are the same way. While it might seem to you that this is a massive market, the truth is that it probably seems that way because those are many of our bestsellers. I find it to be a very difficult market for debut authors to break into.

This is one of those classic situations where I would tell you not to chase the trends or, in your case, the agents. Sit down and write down your ideas and find the one that resonates best with you, the one that you think will help you stand out the most in the market and the one you’re most excited to write. That’s the genre you should be pursuing.



D. A. Baudoin said...

Great advise. I'm finding that the more I think about genres and marketing, the harder it is to actually write. When I'm passionate about the story, I write a good story. I figure, if I write the best story I can, things will work themselves out.

Unknown said...

With my story I began with marketing in mind. I know it sounds crazy but I worked in retail managment for over ten years so it was a big part of my thought process. The genres and choice of where to shelve this masterpiece is something to think about. I'll let my agent advise me once I get there. I'm just plowing forward and writing a book I think people will love. (crosses fingers)

Marilynn Byerly said...

You also need to think of your strength as a writer and a reader.

If you are a strong plotter and the plot drives your novel, standard romance may not be for you, but fantasy and sf may.

If reading an article in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN makes your brain hurt and you skim over the science stuff when you read sf and hate writing those scenes, science fiction isn't for you.

If you like the books of a specific type written twenty years ago but don't care for what's being written today, that genre isn't for you because genres change.

Paul said...

Great advice. Write the story you're moved to write.

ClothDragon said...

I read everything. I love scifi, fantasy, contemporary fantasy. I'm not sure I love romance, but I certainly like it a lot. Once you add paranormals, mystery, or suspense to romance, it shoots up there closer to love. The only thing I won't read is horror. (overactive imagination, nightmares).

Now, I can't imagine writing scifi. I just don't have the tech. I haven't studied enough. I don't care enough about orbits or how spaceships should work to sound convincing there. If you do, write it! I'll read.

Then, my husband tells me I don't have any romance in my soul. I don't think love solves all problems, I think hard work solves problems and if you're really lucky you find someone you can love who is willing to work hard alongside you and make it all easier. So I don't write romance. (at least I don't think so, there are partnerships in my stories though).

I write what I can write. I know, I may have too little experience to really be useful since I've only finished one novel-length work (so many beginnings, so few endings) and eventually, after I collect a few novels under the bed, I might find a need to fall more exactly into specific genre parameters, but until I get published 'branding' myself under a specific genre seems a little cart ahead of the horse.

The suggestion to write what you can write sounds perfect to me. If you really can write in all of them just as fluently, you can always use pen names to separate out your 'brands' ala JD Robb/Nora Roberts. (I'm sure there are others who do this that I haven't read or who don't write in large font on the cover things like "Nora Roberts writing as JD Robb".

If you write one story well enough, (I firmly believe) you will get an agent and that person will help you navigate the rest of it.

Mira said...

Brava! Love this post. Thanks, Jessica.

Follow your muse, and trust it. Tell the story you are meant to write.

Let the trends take care of themselves. Trends shift, and you should not stand your creative work on a foundation of sand. Build it on something more solid.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I write the same genres you do, and really, I don't think you have to focus on one to the exclusion of the others. There's a lot of reader overlap between SF and fantasy, they often share the same section of the bookstore, and many, many authors write both successfully (under the same name). I think needing to focus on one genre over another would be more of an issue if the two you wrote in were more disparate, like SF and historical romance. Of course, you could always try to pitch a novel with elements of both SF and fantasy first, and from there you'd have a little more flexibility to go in either direction with your next book (assuming the first one sells, does well enough to get you a second, etc.).

Sheila Deeth said...

The more I try to brand myself, the more I realize that I'll have to accept that the brand only applies to one part of myself. Finding an agent that represents all my different areas seems really hard though, but thanks for the advice.

Jemi Fraser said...

Awesome advice, as always :) Thanks!

JDuncan said...

Just to add to the whole, "just write the story you're passionate about," when I was querying my book, I thought I had a suspense/thriller on my hands. It was after all, what I set out to right. I didn't get anywhere with it, though my query letter wasn't the strongest one ever written either. However, because it had a paranormal element in it, I eventually found a publisher who liked it as a dark, urban fantasy. It had never even crossed my mind to market it as such. If I had, I would have had a very different list of agents to query. I might have garnered more interest far earlier. The hazards of writing something that's a bit of a crossover. I was lucky though, that someone saw the potential for it in a way I hadn't been thinking. It only takes one.

Brandi Schmidt said...

Thanks so much! The advice is great. I am trying to figure out my genre. My MS is almost complete. It can't be a romance if they don't get together in the end...right? It's more women's paranormal fiction (maybe).

Florence Fois said...

The problem we are all facing is the constant onlaught articles on the condition of the publishing industry and how impossible it may or may not be for an unpublished writer to break through.

Growing up in New York, I can't tell you how many times I've heard people predict the demise of the city.

Ain't gonna happen. Whatever you write, if it's true to yourself, somehow, someone will take you on.

By the way, I enjoy coming here. You have a very enjoyable and helpful blog.

Layne said...

I think Cloth Dragon's husband hit the nail on the head for me too: romance is not in my soul. My novels have what others have called "romantic elements," but the romance part is always a secondary thought. I'm driven by plot and events, not love and emotion, if that makes any sense. I'm currently writing a supernatural thriller with a teen protagonist.

Hillsy said...

Question asker here.... I dropped some info off the question because I thought it clogged things up too much, now Jessica answered, albeit concisely and warmly, the question I wasn't really asking. Hands up, I'll take the blame, it's a tricky question and I probably said it too simply!

I've got 3 WIP's on the go at the moment, in the 3 different genre's (I've always had more than one running, staves off stagnation). Now, call it arrogance or delusion, I think all 3 are decent (I'm not going to say excellent or even very good because I'm not that conceited) and I love all three, as I have done with my finished dust gathers under the bed (practise runs n all that).

So I'd say, for me, it's a case of genre bigamy - I love all three.

Given we all know a MS should 'stand out', and we all must 'write the best book we can', two factors MUST affect the disparity between genre shelf space. 1) Amount of people writing in that genre. 2) Marketability of said genre.

So taking Science Fantasy (a very small genre), is that less represented because of factor 1) or 2)??? Why is that important? Because if it's factor 2) i.e. no one wants to read it, I'm better off writing in one of the other genres IF I want to get published.

If there's simply no one writing Science Fantasy, would it be easier to 'stand out' in a genre under-represented in that way and therefore I should ditch writing normal fantasy and SF?

I want to get published, partially for fame but also as a vindication that I have some 'objective' skill. I want the best chance, like everyone else, and I don't think writing 3 books to everyone else's 1 (when 1 is either a goldmine or a waste of time) is the best way to do it